It’s no surprise for many cat owners to be grabbed on the face by feline paws and licked roughly across the face. Why do cats do that? Surely it’s not your face cleaning habits that are in question here.
For both male and female cats, licking is a way to not only do what they do best – grooming – but also a way to ‘claim you’ as part of their social behaviour. Licking is also a way to seek attention, which occurs more often in bed and when they want to be fed, says renowned animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti.
Most owners are happy to be ‘showered’ with their cat’s love in this manner, but some cats can get a bit carried away and leave their humans gasping for breath. Sometimes, cats turn their tongue onto themselves and lick their body raw.
“A cat’s lick is different from a dog’s lick – a dog’s lick is gentle but a cat’s lick is rough. The cat tongue is extremely raspy, like nothing else on this earth, and able to pick up hair,” she says.
Cats were meant to use their tongues, but not excessively and it’s important to understand the cause of such licking, whether the focus is on the owner’s face or the cat’s body.
Why Do Cats Lick?
When cats are licking their owners, this would be seen as attention seeking, like wanting to be petted or fed at that moment, explains Dr Righetti.
“A lot of cats do this; some bite the nose because the nose sticks out prominently and others will bite fingers. Some cats will lick quite firmly,” she says.
When cats are self licking or grooming themselves too often, there’s often a medical reason. Excessive licking can be a mouth issue due to sore gums or teeth, especially as they get older. Also, parasites, fleas or ticks can set it (licking) off or an allergy or sensitivity in the skin, which can get quite severe and needs immediate veterinary care, says Dr Righetti.
When fleas are a problem, you’ll often find your cat grooming around the base of the tail. Ticks will move up the body towards under the collar, under the chin or the back of the neck.
“Cats will quite likely find a tick in its early stages because they nibble and groom, but not always, so it’s important to check regularly for ticks,” she says.
It’s important to get your cat checked out by a vet early on so it does not turn from a possible medical case into a behavioural problem. “Cats can groom to the point where their bodies are raw and in pain, which can mean that this has turned into compulsive behaviour,” she says.
Is Your Cat Overgrooming?
It’s difficult to tell with cats if they are overgrooming and licking excessively. How do you know when it’s too much?
There may be a problem, says Dr Righetti, if:
- You see a lot of hair balls that have been thrown up
- You see bald patches on your cat
- Every time you look around you find your cat is grooming
- Your cat is irritable from being sore from excessive licking
How To Stop Licking You?
If you want your cat to stop licking you, firstly, make sure you address the reason for the behaviour by giving your cat the attention she is asking for.
“Avoid giving any attention to the behaviour,” says Dr Righetti. “For instance, if your cat licks you awake early in the morning to be fed, wait a few minutes and then feed your cat so she doesn’t associate licking with feeding.”
If you don’t like being woken up early by your cat, consider shutting her out of your room. If you prefer not to do that, then “get up from bed and respond to your cat’s needs to be fed and let out, but do it with a minimum fuss; don’t play with your cat, go back to bed quickly,” she adds.
If your cat jumps on your lap for attention every time you sit down to talk to your friend, Dr Righetti suggests arming yourself with a cat toy to direct the attention.
And until your cat gets the idea, you might want to wear long rubber gloves to protect your arms from being licked. After all, that tongue has been to a lot undesirable places!